Page images
PDF
EPUB

Possessions

BENJAMIN W. THORON, Director1

THE territorial areas of the United States—Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto

Rico and the Virgin Islands—are giving accelerated attention to their ultimate political destiny. Believing that these areas should have the opportunity to determine for themselves their political relationship with the continental United States, the Division of Territories has aided in the formulation of policies that conform to each area's aspirations.

The Division assisted in the drafting of the Statehood bill for Alaska which was introduced by Alaska's Delegate to the Congress, E. L. Bartlett. Pending the time that this may become a reality, it has begun a complete revision of the Alaska Organic Act, which has had only fragmentary revisions since 1912 and which in many of its provisions is obsolete, retaining for the Federal Government functions which the territory is well able to perform for itself. The revisions now being drafted would provide for an elected Governor, for additional taxing power in the legislature, for a complete territorial judicial system and for other reforms which would give the territory a political and economic base from which the transition to statehood would be facilitated.

Hawaii's Delegate, Joseph R. Farrington, has also introduced a statehood bill for that territory which the Division helped to draft. As in the case of Alaska, it is felt that a revised Organic Act, extending especially a greater amount of political responsibility to Hawaii, will provide a sensible and logical transition to statehood. Consequently the Division has conducted preliminary studies of the Hawaiian Organic Act, with a view to its reform.

Puerto Rico has a politically mature people who, after 45 years of waiting, also are urging a speedy determination of their political relationship with the United States. Senate bill 1407, in the drafting of which the Division participated, and which provided for an elected Governor and considerably increased local autonomy, failed of passage in the Seventy-eighth Congress. Late in the year, the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs held hearings on Senator Tyding's independence bill and the Division arranged for Puerto Rican representatives to testify. From this came a new bill, drafted by a joint commission of the Legislature of Puerto Rico, which was introduced in the Senate by Senator Tydings (upon request) as Senate bill 1002 and by Commissioner Jesus T. Pinero of Puerto Rico in the House as House bill 3237. This bill would authorize a plebiscite so that the people of Puerto Rico could decide by democratic means whether they favor independence, statehood or a dominion type of status.

1 Resigned effective June 30,1815, and was succeeded by Edwin Q. Arnold.

The Organic Act of the Virgin Islands has been under the practical test of actual usage only since 1936, but in that time various defects have shown themselves which make it short of ideal and the Virgin Islanders themselves have created an Organic Act Reform Committee which is busily engaged in drafting proposed amendments to die act. Among the Committee's proposals which are being carefully considered by the Division is one which would give the Islands a representative in Congress. They alone among United States citizens of territories and possessions do not now have such representation.

Knowing that governmental techniques are acquired only through actual working experience in government, the Division has recommended the appointment of qualified Virgin Islanders to positions of responsibility when vacancies occur. The posts of Executive Assistant to the Governor, Commissioner of Finance, and Superintendent of Schools for St. Croix have all been filled by local persons in the past year.

Greater political autonomy, whether it takes the form of statehood, independence or an intermediate form of status, must rest on a sound economic and social structure to be successful and the Division has aided the territorial areas toward this end.

Major attention was devoted during the year to the formulation of a program intended to implement an order from the late President Roosevelt following his speech at Bremerton on August 12, 1944. In that speech he stated:

* * * I am going to set up a study of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands as a place to which many veterans of this war, especially those who do not have strong home roots, can go to become pioneers. Alaska is a land with a very small population * * *. I am convinced that it has great opportunities to those who are willing to work and to help build up all kinds of new things in new lands * * *.

A preliminary program was immediately drafted in cooperation with the various bureaus of this Department, and with agencies of the Department of Agriculture, recommending projects in every economic field that show promise of supporting additional population in Alaska. It included such diverse activities as a land classification program to aid homestead settlement and experimental fishing operations intended to "prove up" the undeveloped ground fishery resources. Other parts of the program included the completion of the basic topographic mapping of the Territory, mineral investigations, water resource investigations, planning for the development of the recreational resources, improvement of spawning streams to increase the runs of salmon, an increase in experimental work on tbe breeding and feeding of fur animals, surveys of roads necessary to postwar development, a number of projects in support of agricultural development, such as soil management and fertilizer investigations, and studies of the economic possibilities of agriculture in Alaska.

A budget for the conduct of the program was submitted to the Congress with the approval of the President, as a part of the First Supplemental Appropriation bill for 1945. This program was rejected as being too ambitious to initiate during tbe war period. The Division then undertook to prepare a modified study program for inclusion in the regular budget of the Department of the Interior for the 1946 fiscal year, every attempt being made to comply with suggestions made in the course of the previous hearings. However, the modified program did not prove to be acceptable and all funds for the study suggested by the President were eliminated from the appiopriation bill. It is still hoped that the major parts of the program may be undertaken.

As a result of the interest stimulated by the President's speech, the volume of inquiries about postwar opportunities in Alaska from people in all parts of the Nation, particularly from men in the armed services, has increased to an average of over 600 inquiries a month. These request detailed information on such subjects as the cost of living, communication and transportation facilities, climatic conditions, business, trade, employment and prospecting opportunities, requirements to practice in professions, and methods of acquiring land in the agricultural regions of Alaska.

The Division has continued to work closely with all Federal agencies functioning in the Territory, as well as with Territorial officials and other agencies within the Department, in planning for the postwar development and settlement of the area.

A program was worked out with the War Manpower Commission under which that agency agreed to recruit civilian workers for The Alaska Railroed to replace the railroad operating battalion which the War Department had made available to the railroad in 1943. The recruitment program was sufficiently successful to permit the removal of most of the military personnel before the end of the fiscal year.

The Division, in cooperation with the Delegate in Congress from Alaska, conducted negotiations with the War Shipping Administration to secure continuation of the wartime waiver of the coastwise navigation law, thus permitting continued service to Alaska by Canadian coastwise vessels so long as the number of American vessels continues to be inadequate to serve tbe requirements of the Alaska trade. These representations succeeded in securing extension of the waivers.

The Division represented The Alaska Railroad, the Alaska Road Commission and the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation in numerous contacts with other Government agencies, in discussing and solving problems of labor relations, acquisition of property, establishing priorities for obtaining equipment, and other matters requiring attention in Washington.

The House Committee on Territories secured the enactment of a resolution directing the Committee to investigate the various political and economic problems in Alaska. The Division has worked closely with the Committee in arranging for the investigating trip for the summer of 1945. A member of the Division will accompany the Committee.

After nearly three years under martial law, the Territory of Hawaii in October 1944, had restored to it by Presidential proclamation the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The military no longer tries civilians for offenses against Territorial law and except for certain restrictions the citizens of Hawaii have regained their peacetime status. The Division of Territories had long been working toward this end. It early believed that the public safety no longer required government under martial law and urged this view upon both War and Justice Departments.

Through the Division's effort, a number of continental companies will build plants and establish offices in Hawaii during the postwar period so as to take advantage of Hawaii's position for an expanding economic market in the Pacific area.

During the year the Civil Aeronautics Board entertained applications for certificates to operate routes between the United States and Latin America via the Caribbean area, to Asia across Alaska, and to the Orient and Australia by way of Hawaii. As the Federal agency charged with protection of interests of the territories and possessions, the Department entered an appearance as intervenor in the appropriate proceedings on behalf of Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Patterned partly upon a program known as "BAWI," or "Balance agriculture with industry," which was inaugurated by the State of Mississippi, the Insular Government of Puerto Rico, through its Development Company, is engaged in sponsoring and encouraging the establishment of industries which will supplement the Island's agricultural economy and put its people to work.

Through the War Production Board the Division secured priorities for an $890,000 clay products plant, which will utilize Puerto Rican clays in the manufacture of structural tile, brick, sewer pipe, aDd other heavy glazed products, as well as dinnerware, gardenware, sanitary ware, etc. Priorities were also secured for the construction and equipping of a paperboard mill which will have a capacity of 8,000 tons of paperboard a year and which will utilize the Island's waste paper and some of the bagasse pulp from its sugar mills to manufacture containers for the bottles now being produced in the new glass plant. Continuing aid to the Insular Government in reaching capacity production in the glass plant, the Division presented the plant's case for additional equipment to the WPB. Final capacity of the plant when all units are in operation will be in the neighborhood of 57,600,000 bottles of 16-ounce weight annually. The plant is one of the most modern in the world and will employ several hundred persons directly and several hundred more indirectly.

The Division, the Insular Government of Puerto Rico, and the Government of the Virgin Islands believe that the American-Caribbean offers attractive opportunities for industrial capital from the continental United States and from the islands to establish new as well as branch plants to supply the sizable local market and the vast markets in South and Central America. Full cooperation is being given the local governments in making these opportunities known. Through these efforts a leather company with its main office in New Jersey is now running a branch plant in Puerto Rico which will soon be employing, if it is not already, more than 700 persons. The Division dealt also with a company from New Jersey which manufactures leather eyeglass cases, a silverware factory in Baltimore, perfume companies in New Jersey and Chicago, a frozen foods company which is interested in quick-freezing Puerto Rico's pineapple, a sausage casing company in Chicago, a bicycle plant in Ohio, a soft drink firm in New York, a watch company, a diamond-cutting concern from Belgium, several rug concerns in New York, a ceramics importer in Florida, an elastic products firm, furniture plants in New York and Chicago, a large citrus-fruit grower in Florida who was interested in securing fancy gift baskets for his products, and a coconut fiber plant.

When War Production Board Order M-388 was being formulated to give priority assistance to manufacturers of medium-priced wearing apparel, it became obvious that the hand needlework trade of Puerto Rico, the Island's third largest industry, would suffer a death blow and that most of the industry's 50,000 employees would be thrown out of work. Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion, Fred M. Vinson, agreed that this would be disastrous to Puerto Rico's economy and requested the WPB to make special provision for the Island. Following prolonged discussions with the WPB and with industry representatives in Washington and in New York, the Division began the allocation of fabrics totaling 17,200,000 yards annually.

« PreviousContinue »